Posts Tagged 'simple cooking'

revolución de kale

Remember my friend Gail? The one who warned me about getting in the way of my own chill on a boundary waters canoe trip? Well, she’s back. And with more terrific life advice.
I had the good fortune of ushering in April in Zihuatanejo, Mexico—you know, that little idyllic little village on the Pacific where fictional Andy Dufresne lives out his freedom after chiseling his way out of Shawshank Prison? Let’s just say he chose well. And believe me, I was ready from some warm, utopian bliss.
zihuatanejo
But just prior to leaving, someone advised me to avoid ruining my trip with gastric mishaps by adhering to the following: only eat in reputable places, order canned soda instead of water or cocktails with ice, avoid street food, and stick to produce I can peel. Say again?? This was the exact opposite of what I had in mind. It was time to call in a Mexico travel pro.
I emailed Gail in a panic. She responded immediately and assured me that with a few simple precautions, I could eat and drink whatever I like. Amen. But perhaps more importantly, she dispensed theses additional tips:
  1. find a good tortillaria
  2. eat as many of those little tiny mangoes as you can
  3. don’t forget the  jamaica (hibiscus) concentrate for your margaritas
I didn’t fully understand the weight of this advice until I was in the thick of it, but man was she ever spot on. Done, done, and done. No regrets. If you find yourself in Mexico, do this.
tortillaria
I deplaned onto hot the hot tarmac, ready for Mexico’s agricultural treasures. And for a time, I was doing really well, cobbling together the remains of my high school Spanish, shopping at el mercado municipal para mi frutas y las verduas. I filled my bags with the most seriously gorgeous smelling produce I’ve ever had—avocados, pineapple, jalapeños, melons, jicama, carrots, radishes, cilantro, onions, garlic, tomatoes, limes, and of course, the prerequisite mango pequeños.
And back on my sun-drenched balcony, I proceeded to throw together some of the simplest, most flavorful salads I’ve ever had. Jicama, carrot, pineapple slaw. Radishes doused in lime juice with a splash of olive oil and coarse, smoky sea salt. Quinoa negra with jalapeño, mango, cilantro, and avocado. I marinated chunks of fresh fish in garlic and lime juice for the grill and made spicy fruit salsa while I waited.
In the mornings I brewed strong pour over coffee and slathered plain yogurt and local honey onto warm flour tortillas stuffed avocado, mango, radish, and cilantro. Afternoons were met with a cold Pacifico con limón and homemade salsa with chips. For all practical purposes, I had arrived.
salsa-y-totopos
But on the third day, I caved. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I took a taxi to the MEGA Comercial Mexicana out on the strip, and like a homing pigeon, I navigated my way to the back right hand corner of the store (MEGA is not an exaggeration here) until I found myself in front of a teeny tiny selection of very sad looking greens. 
And there I stood, wresting with my conscious for a good five minutes. Surely I can go without it for eight days, I reasoned. Why, I wondered, when there are so many other alternatives? I remembered Gail’s explanation that leafy stuff is in Mexico isn’t always the best, and how this would be a great opportunity to eat cabbage instead! (Her exclamation point, not mine.)
But it was no use. The next thing I knew I was in the check out lane. With kale. In a plastic container. Courtesy of Earthbound Farms, via the California. Never has produce made me stoop so low. At least I was spared the embarrassment of  running into anyone I knew. I tried, but I just couldn’t go cold turkey.
I resumed my love of simple, regional cooking, just with the odd addition of a little kale thrown in here and there. And I continued to toss my daily produce scraps from mi balcón to the free-range chickens below, taking care to explain the finer qualities of these peculiar stems—sturdy, adaptable, and with an undeniably assertive flavor. They seemed quite taken with them, really. I might have even started a Mexican chicken kale revolution.
mango-pequeños
Though I do have to confess that on my last morning, whilst trying to cram in every last bit of produce that I could possibly fit into my belly, I was surprised to find an ample handful of kale left in the plastic dome that had been shoved to the back of the fridge. Could it be? Was my body slowly adapting to a life without kale? I don’t know exactly how I go to this point, but I eat kale every day—at least once, sometimes at every meal. My teeth are perpetually flecked with green. Occasionally I find it in my hair.
The one item you are pretty much guaranteed to find in my fridge is a container of massaged kale. I de-stem two to three bunches into a big bowl, tear or snip the leaves into bite size pieces, pour a few tablespoons of olive or flax seed oil over, and proceed to knead it with my hands for a good 7-10 minutes. Sometimes at the end I toss in a big handful of fresh herbs before transferring it to my container. I repeat this process every few days.
Almost always, my breakfast starts with a large bowl of massaged kale. I’ll top it with just about anything—from cold left overs to hot oatmeal with an egg on top. But my favorite do up includes a handful of berries, a bit of sliced avocado, some hemp hearts or chia seeds, a glug of plain kiefer, a spoonful of maca root, a drizzle of raw honey, and a fresh squeeze of lime. Oh, and a pinch of habeñero salt. Is this weird? Have I told you too much? All I know is that I could eat this forever. Sometimes I go to bed, just so I can wake up and eat kale.
My only justification for this obsession is the fact that I live in a climate where it snows for seven or eight months of the year. Kale is one of the first crops in my garden and always the last. I depend on it. It gets me through. Which is no doubt why I found myself in a Mexican supermarket, 2,500 miles from home, searching for this reliable green that has fed me so well for so long.
¡Viva la col rizada!
kale breakfast bowl
After all this, I’d be remiss not to leave you with a legitimate kale recipe. I’m pretty sure this is the salad that hooked me on kale and turned me into a lifer. It’s a quick take-off on a traditional Caesar salad. The recipe, via Melissa Clark, calls for Tuscan kale, which is the dark smooth leaf variety, also call black or lacinato kale. This happens to be my kale of choice for most applications, but any kale will do.
Tuscan Kale Salad
Adapted from NYT cooking

1  large bunch kale
1  slice sturdy bread (rye is my favorite), lightly toasted and processed into coarse crumbs or small cubes
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4  teaspoon kosher salt
1/4  cup finely grated pecorino cheese, more for garnish
3  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for garnish
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
ground black pepper, to taste
Remove the thick stems by pinching the stalk towards the bottom and sliding your fingers all the way up the stem. It’s fine if the thinner portion of the stem remains intact. Slice or tear the leaves into ribbons or bite sized pieces. You should have 4 to 5 cups. Place kale in a large bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle pound garlic and salt into a paste. Transfer garlic paste to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pepper flakes, black pepper, and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over kale and toss very well to thoroughly combine (dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat leaves—the best way to do this is with clean hands).

Let salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with bread crumbs, additional cheese and a drizzle of oil. Serves 2-4